OXFORD, Ohio — The Savage name can be seen all over Cady Arena.
Hanging above the student section are the metallic characters “17 Savage”, honoring Brian Savage, who played 12 years in the NHL.
A team picture featuring him and the 1992-93 Miami team that was the first to qualify for the NCAA Tournament is embedded in a concourse wall.
And Savage can be seen on three of the annual team photo plaques that hang around the exterior of the concourse, including that junior campaign when he scored 37 goals, tying him for second-most in RedHawks history.
So choosing Miami could’ve been an intimidating prospect for Ryan Savage, with the potential added pressure to match his father’s brilliance in Oxford.
But when the younger Savage arrived on campus in the summer of 2019, any concerns were immediately assuaged.
“Everyone told me that you’re your own individual player, you’re not your dad,” Ryan Savage said. “Yeah, we might play a little similarly, but honestly you guys aren’t the same player at all so don’t try to compare yourself.”
Three and a half years later, despite having lost half a season to COVID and dealing with multiple serious injuries, Savage appears to be playing better than ever heading into the home stretch of his senior year.
“I think he’s handled it great, and he’s got a brother that’s pretty damn great too,” fellow senior forward Jack Olmstead said. “Both of them do a great job. Ryan’s a really good player, and he’s a great kid too. If you need anything he’s the first guy that will help you with it. He takes pride in doing things the right way and that other guys can look up to you and emulate you, how he goes about his day-to-day process.”
Miami coach Chris Bergeron also said Ryan has adjusted to his son-of-a-Miami-hockey-icon role well.
“I think he probably knew there would be some comparison, he knew what his dad’s legacy was here,” Bergeron said. “Do you know how easy or hard that’s going to be on you? No. You don’t know that until you get here.”
Brian Savage is still tied for ninth on Miami’s all-time goal list with 66 despite his having played just three seasons. His 109 points ranks him No. 43 in team history.
Savage played 674 NHL games, scoring 192 goals, tied with Reilly Smith for the most all-time among Miami alumni.
Growing up while your father is playing in the NHL means lots of moving, and Ryan was born in Montreal during Brian’s years with the Canadiens.
But his first memories are of the Phoenix area, since Brian was traded to the-then Phoenix Coyotes for Sergei Berezin on Jan. 25, 2002.
“We ended up, all three of us (brothers) growing up in Arizona for a good chunk of our lives,” Savage said. “That’s where I would say I grew up the most, where I’d say my childhood was.”
Brian bounced around the final two seasons of his career before retiring in 2006, but the family remained in the southwest.
“I can remember playing hockey in the back yard year-round, basically, it just doesn’t get too cold there, so we could wear a short-sleeve and shorts year-round, and we were lucky enough to have a net in the back yard that we could shoot on,” Savage said. “Me and Red had some intense battles back in the day.”
Ryan impressed with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes as a 13-year-old and played Under-16 the following year, finishing with six goals and seven assists in 23 games.
But then the Savages were on the move again, as Brian took a coaching job in Austria. Ryan jumped into the Salzburg Red Bull program and dominated at the Under-18 level despite being 15 that season.
He joined the U-20 team for its playoff run and recorded a goal and an assist in four games, going plus-2.
Savage said the setup was quite different than in North America. He shared a dorm in the hockey and soccer multiplex, and his family ended up moving into an in-town townhouse apartment.
“It was a pretty unique opportunity – not many people get to say that they got to play in Europe at all, let alone at such a young age, so I’ve very grateful for that,” Savage said.
The Savages were intent on returning to North America after their year abroad and wanted to remain in the United States.
With Brian and wife Debbie hailing from Sudbury, Ont., and both having family back home, they decided the Detroit area would be the most logical place to resettle.
Savage joined the Michigan-based Honeybaked Under-16 team and dominated, going 8-10-18 in 17 games, showing that he was still a force despite taking a highly unorthodox route to traditional North American juniors.
“I would say it definitely helped me a little bit, just getting that well-rounded experience,” Savage said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world, I loved every second of playing hockey in Arizona and I love that I got to play in Europe for a year and go around on little vacations around Europe, as well as play with some very high-end talent. Some of those guys are in the NHL (or) playing in the AHL now.”
While the rest of the Savages dropped anchor in Michigan, Savage remained on the move, moving to Fargo to help the Force of the USHL for six games at the end of that 2016-17 campaign and dress for 35 more contests the next season.
He logged 104 games over the next four seasons with Fargo, Omaha and Muskegon of the USHL, including four games with the U.S. National Development Team.
In his final year of juniors, 2018-19, Savage combined for 17 goals and 19 assists in 52 games between Omaha and Muskegon as an 18-year-old and went 2-6-8 in eight Clark Cup games with the Lumberjacks.
When it came college commitment time, he reflected on the times he came to Oxford as a young child, when he had already begun to love the program as much as his father did.
“Seeing that and being around it so much growing up, it turned into my dream,” Savage said. “I always wanted to play for Miami growing up.”
He treasures a picture of himself when he was very young skating on an outdoor rink in Canada wearing a Miami sweater.
That made the choice an easy one for Savage, regardless of Brian’s Oxford accolades, and he ultimately signed a Letter of Intent to play for then-coach Enrico Blasi.
“I called Rico and I said, hey, I want to be a RedHawk,” Savage said. “There’s no other place I was really even considered going.”
Savage said one of his visits was Bowling Green, where Bergeron was the coach at the time and has ultimately been behind the bench all four years he has spent in Oxford.
“We’ve been around Miami so much and we know what the culture’s like,” Savage said. “We have the best facilities and the best coaches, the best atmosphere, so it was a no-brainer for me.”
Blasi was let go after 2018-19 and Bergeron took over shortly after, so Savage headed to Oxford for his rookie season following the program’s first head coaching change in 20 years.
“I haven’t really ventured off of the coaching staff or Miami at all,” Savage said.
As a freshman, Savage racked up seven goals and seven assists in 29 games, including a three-point game at Omaha and two goals in the final four contests.
Savage said any pressure heading into that rookie campaign was squelched by the support he received.
“Once people told me to just go out and play hockey and play your own game and don’t think about the outside factors, and I got settled around my new teammates and my coaches and the new facilities, I got comfortable I adapted pretty well,” Savage said.
COVID hit in early March, prematurely ending the 2019-20 season.
College hockey finally returned in December, but Savage was limited to 14 games and five points his sophomore season due to injury.
Then another family member became a RedHawk – his younger brother and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Red.
“Not many get to play hockey with their brother, let alone Division I, so it’s definitely a unique experience for both of us, and I know we’re both very happy about it,” Savage said.
Ryan and Red had discussed the prospect of playing together as kids, but with their three-year age gap that seemed unlikely in a sport that rarely sees players a spend that long in the same place.
Ryan is 22, Red is 19.
“It was a little weird at first,” Savage said. “We’ve obviously practiced together in the summer and trained together for the past couple years, but seeing each other in the same jersey for the same team, it was awesome, it was really cool. I know my parents loved it – it made their travel schedule a little easier. But it’s great playing with Red. He’s obviously doing really well for himself, so that’s fun to watch and be a part of. I wouldn’t change anything. I love getting the opportunity to play with my brother for a couple of years.”
On the scoresheet, junior season was Ryan’s best, as he netted nine goals, including a pair of two-goal contests despite getting banged up again and missing five more games, as he and Red not only on the same lineup card, they were sometimes paired on the same line.
“Obviously when your brother comes in there’s going to be a little competitiveness but they’re almost best friends too, so it’s really cool to see both of them on the same team,” Olmstead said. “They’re both great players and they’re both great people. It’s worked out great so far.”
Red flourished as well. He finished with 16 points his freshman season and was named to the U.S. World Juniors Under-20 team.
“I do think having Red here has helped,” Bergeron said. “It’s probably helped take a little bit of the pressure off of Ryan so now it’s the two of them trying to carry on the dad’s name and the dad’s legacy.”
Bergeron and Brian Savage were teammates for three seasons at Miami, from 1990-93. Their first season together the RedHawks won five games, but by Year 3 MU notched 27 victories, winning the CCHA title and earning its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
This season, Savage has dressed for all 28 games after suffering a pair of concussions the past couple of years, and they weren’t the first two of his playing career.
“Injuries happen to everyone, I unfortunately have been hit by them my last three years, whether it be major or minor,” Savage said. “But I think it’s all about attitude and go into it thinking ‘why me, why am I the one that’s always getting put through this?’ it’s just going to bring more negativity, so I think you always have to have a positive mindset. The support that we have on campus, at the arena, on the team, it’s hard to beat and I’m just glad that I was supported by such a loving and caring staff, and teammates that were able to help get me back to better than ever.”
Said Olmstead: “Credit to him for being able to bounce back and play, and obviously you don’t want to rush any of that back. He’s still playing the same way, he’s playing hard, he hasn’t let it get to his head. Injuries suck, they suck a lot, but it’s a part of sports and he’s done a great job with that.”
As a senior, Savage is 4-3-7 heading into the final three weekends of the regular season, but he has elevated his game overall even if the scoresheet hasn’t reflected it.
“His shot is crazy good, just give him the puck and he’ll put it in for you,” Olmstead said. “He’s blocking shots, he’s doing the little things, he’s really bought in and he’s a great player for us.
His improvement overall has been noticeable in several areas, including defensively, physically and in forechecking.
“I think he’s got more of a complete game this year, and I think it’s because he’s willing to be coached, he’s willing to do what we’re asking him to do, which generally in his three-plus years has been to play away from the puck,” Bergeron said. “I really think he’s done that.”
Savage said he has gone to school with the coaching staff, absorbing everything he can to improve his game.
“When I got here I thought I was not a complete player, but more than I was, but over the course of these four years I think I’ve learned a lot about hockey, a lot about life, a lot about relationships, whether that be with teammates, coaches — everything’s connected,” Savage said. “I was kind of sponge, as much as I could be, taking in all the information, all that I could learn and I think it’s helped me in the long run.”
Savage’s hockey bloodlines don’t stop at Red and Brian. His great-uncle was Larry Hillman, who played 22 seasons in the NHL and WHA, from the mid-1950s through the mid-70s, winning four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. Hillman passed away last June.
He had two other great uncles and another uncle who played at hockey’s top level, and his youngest brother, Rory, is thriving for the same Honeybaked team Ryan starred with.
With six regular season games left in 2022-23, Savage has scored 22 goals and dished for 16 assists for 38 points in 101 games.
“Ryan has done everything that’s been asked of him,” Bergeron said. “We’ve asked him to bring a more consistent work ethic on a daily basis, which he’s done, and I don’t mean recently, I mean over his time here. We’ve asked him to be better on the forecheck and bring more layers to his game than shooting and scoring, because it’s very difficult to score consistently, at least 5-on-5 in college, and he’s done that. And I really he’s a really positive kid, he truly wants to be part of Miami hockey becoming relevant again, and obviously there’s family ties there and it’s something that’s important to him, so I think he brings that as well.”
Injuries. Losing records. COVID. Ryan Savage has only gotten better despite dealing with all of those issues, and the treasures all those experiences — good and bad — in his time as a RedHawk.
“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster, and it hasn’t exactly been what I imagined it would be, with COVID happening and all of that, but honestly I think it’s for the best,” Savage said. “You go through ups and downs all the time in life and hockey, and it’s how you handle it. Honestly everything that I’ve taken in at Miami, it’s been unbelievable and I wouldn’t change it for the world. The last four years have been the time of my life, hockey-wise, academics, social, making new friends, making new teammates, new coaches even — I wouldn’t change a thing.”